What World Are We Talking About?

I have taken in a great deal of information over the past month or so and seemed time to step back and take yet another stab at my own current best-guess assimilation of this investigation. After contemplating Charles Sanders Peirce, a little Martin Heidegger and some John Dewey to boot, it seems that it is indeed best to identify three dimensions of reality. I will call them, “the material world,” “the living world,” and “the meaningful world.” These are far from original distinctions, but it is good to take a look at them anyway.

The material world includes non-living matter. The living world is the world of living things. The meaningful world is the world of meaningful ideas and emotions. The material world is the most fundamental. When elements of matter become arranged in certain complex ways something interesting happens to it. The non-living matter takes on a whole new spectrum of characteristics. These new characteristics are so fundamentally different that we make a huge distinction between matter that exhibit those characteristics and that which does not. The matter that exhibits these new characteristics we call living and the rest becomes by default non-living. (Not dead, because dead implies that something was living and then ceased to be alive.)

To me what is powerful is to see that “life” is a set of characteristics that are exhibited by some arrangements of matter. We could list some of the characteristics of living vs. non-living things but I think that we get the difference. Thinking of this in terms of emergence, these characteristics emerge out of the matter and become characteristic of the matter at the same time.

Now from the living world emerges the meaningful world. Again this new world emerges as a new set of characteristics that some arrangements of living matter begin to exhibit. The use of language might be one of these, the use of tools, storytelling, taking on names – we could probably go through and begin to identify these characteristics until we felt satisfied that we had them. Again the most interesting thing is to think about how these new characteristics arise right out of some arrangements of living matter. We could say that what has emerged is “mind” – not brain, lots of living things have brains that coordinate body functioning and movement. Let’s say that mind is whatever allows us to be aware of meaningfulness, not just events, or objects, but meaningful events or meaningful objects.

From reading John Dewey I picked up an interesting use of the word “as.” Dewey seemed to be implying that whenever you perceive of something “as” something, you perceive meaning. This can get tricky to talk about because for us meaning and perception are so totally intertwined that it is difficult to separate them.  If we are just seeing a white sphere with read marks on it, there is no meaning in that. You don’t yet know what I am talking about it. I haven’t conveyed the meaning. If we are seeing a “baseball” we are seeing a meaningful object. It is not just a white sphere with red marks – it is ball of very specific size, used in a specific game, that I have a specific history with (or not). If I say white sphere with red marks – not much hops into “mind.” If I say baseball a hole assortment of conscious and unconscious meanings and relationships spring into “mind.”

I believe that Charles Peirce was talking about this “mind” when he talked about thirdness, Heidegger talked about this “mind’ when he made the distinction of the “world” instead of the “universe” and this is the meaning that Dewey was attributing to mind.

Could it be that the physical science are only designed to deal with the “material world?” A discipline like Behaviorism designed to deal with the “living world?” and that other disciplines are designed for dealing with the “meaningful world?” How much difficulty in communicating comes from the fact that we mix up these different dimensions without taking that into account?